African Union head says Zimbabwe army takeover ‘seems like a coup’

Robert Mugabe is reportedly ‘safe’ after gunfire was reported near his compound

The head of the African Union has said the takeover of Zimbabwe by the country’s military “seems like a coup”.

The army chiefs who seized the capital, including the presidential palace and the state broadcaster early on Wednesday, claimed they had not carried out a coup.

President Robert Mugabe is believed to be under house arrest despite an army claim that he was “safe”.

The Zimbabwean army said it took Mr Mugabe and his wife Grace into custody but there are unconfirmed and disputed reports that the first lady has fled the country and may be in Namibia.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm, non-violence and restraint after gunfire and explosions were heard near Mr Mugabe’s compound.

Armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, and the military said the action was aimed at targeting “criminals”.

Grace Mugabe has made no secret of her desire to succeed her husband

African Union leader Alpha Conde, who is also Guinea’s president, said the AU condemned the actions of military chiefs in the southern African country, adding that they were “clearly soldiers trying to take power by force”.

“The African Union expresses its serious concern regarding the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe,” he said, before demanding “constitutional order… be restored immediately” as he called “on all stakeholders to show responsibility and restraint”.

South African President Jacob Zuma said he had spoken to Mr Mugabe over the phone, adding that the 93-year-old “is fine but confined in his home”.

Mr Zuma has also sent an envoy to speak to Zimbabwean army chiefs.

Blasts could be heard in the capital as the military took control of a paramilitary police armoury and government offices.

The political crisis was sparked by Mr Mugabe’s sacking of vice president – and likely successor – Emmerson Mnangagwa last week.

The 75-year-old former intelligence chief, whose ousting appeared to clear the way for Mrs Mugabe to succeed her husband, was accused of plotting against the government.

Following his dismissal, Mr Mnangagwa fled to South Africa and called on members of ruling party ZANU-PF to desert the President.

Sky Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Kiley said there was an expectation that Robert Mugabe would give a televised address to the nation.

“The Zimbabweans are talking about a possible deal, possibly by Friday… there is a sense that Robert Mugabe might be prepared to either hand over or endorse the movement of the military at this stage, possibly by the end of the week.

Zuma: South Africa sending an envoy to Zimbabwe

“At the same time there is talk of the establishment of a transition government that would involve members of ZANU-PF, possibly Morgan Tzvangirai, the leader of the opposition, and the postponement or abolition of the December elections.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has urged for “restraint on all sides” and “an avoidance of violence”.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for “proper, free and fair elections” to prevent Zimbabwe transitioning “from one unelected tyrant to another”.

He added: “We will do all we can, with our international partners, to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”

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